Wednesday 27 August 2008

The European Dream

The "American Dream" is that anyone can make it if he or she just strives hard enough for his or her goals. But what is the "European Dream"?

I am watching the speeches of Democratic leaders (e.g. Hillary, Michelle, Bill, Joe) at the Denver presidential nomination convention and the old story of the "American Dream", the "Unlikely Journey", pops up as narrative of the past and policy vision for the future. The American Dream is something every American and every not-yet American can relate to.

This idea can outshine trifle policy discussions and the bureaucratic attention to every little detail, it can serve as the guiding thread of a story that connects to the audience as whole and as a collection of individuals with their individual hopes and dreams. And the "American Dream" is something understood by each and everyone without explanation, without reference to specific stories, and without difference in social, economic, and political background.

But is there also a "European Dream"?

  • Is it the dream of free movement? - Yes, as long as we are personally concerned. But as soon as someone from another European nation comes by to seek a better life or if a factory moves from one country to another, the freedom of movement is quickly seen as an evil, not as a good.
  • Is it the dream of peace? - Yes, as long as our own countries are concerned. But as soon as we need to bomb civilians in Afghanistan or invade Iraq, many of our nations are ready to send much more than just humanitarian aid.
  • Is it the dream of social justice? - Yes, as long as we do not have to agree on what "social justice" is.
  • Is it the dream of a European Union? - Yes, it is, but for some this dream is rather a nightmare than one where you can fly through the air.
  • Is it the same as the American Dream? - No! We are not looking for those individual success stories, the unlikely paths, the improbably journeys. This will for once and ever remain the "American Dream".

That is actually our biggest problem: There is no single European Dream. Our leaders have nothing to tell. They know a thousand different stories, they can enumerate a thousand little policy steps they would like to make, but they can not tell the one single story we all could relate to.

All the discussions around an elected European president or the lack of appeal of Mr Barroso and even about a "Constitution" or a "Lisbon" are kind of useless without this one story, this one dream, this one thing we can all work for, individually and collectively. Because without the dream, we are discussing about empty containers, not about real differences.

For me, the European Dream is the dream of unity in diversity, of unlikely cooperation between unlikely partners. It is the dream of meeting people who seem different in first place but are so similar at a second glance. It is the dream of realising that shared problems can only be solved together. It is the dream that the implicit virtual construction of "nations" as divisive features of our times is replaced by a more explicit construction of larger union that is inclusive instead of exclusive.

But too often, I wake up from this dream and realise that it is not shared. It is not something everyone around me can relate to. The "European Dream" in itself is an improbable journey, and I can only hope that this journey will find a positive end, and will not get lost in the confrontational disputes of the past.


Anonymous said...

Is it the dream of peace? - Yes, as long as our own countries are concerned. But as soon as we need to bomb civilians in Afghanistan or invade Iraq, many of our nations are ready to send much more than just humanitarian aid.

Julien, I always value your perspective on European issues, but let's get the facts straight. Your prior commitment to peace does not allow you to distort history.

As soon as we need to bomb civilians

You are fully aware that that was never the case in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Taliban protected Osama bin Laden for a decade; the U.S. told them to hand him over; they did not. We invaded.

We did not do so because as you spin it we needed to bomb civilians. Did innocent people die? Yes. But this is never intentional or acceptable.

Julien Frisch said...

I am not saying that we are bombing civilians by purpose, but from my perception civilian casualties are happening (or, have happened) quite frequently in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

Actually, I was implicitly referring to the most recent case:

European and American media are usually more preoccupied with counting two or three dead soldiers of our own troops but ignoring "collateral damage". I bet I could find an exact death count of coalition forces in Afghanistan but no reliable figures on civilian casualties.

For me, any war is wrong, and especially the post 9/11 wars that have answered terrorist attacks with conventional wars based on the strange assumption that you can bomb out terrorists.

The European Union is correct in presenting itself as a project that has prevented internal wars from happening, but that doesn't mean that the EU is an anti-war project. This is what I wanted to say.

And what I also meant: It is easy to send our troops far away because we don't have to fear any comparable answer on our grounds. If yes, our populations would be much more reluctant to play war. Since we (luckily) do not know anymore how it feels to be in a real war, we therefor have no problems sending our soldiers fighting in foreign lands.

Who cares how those effected by our decisions feel? What are one hundred Afghans lives compared to 100 valuable western lives...?

Anonymous said...

At the time of my initial comment, I haven't read the BBC story you pointed out, but if true that is a huge set-back for the coalition in Afghanistan. Taking even conservative estimates: at least 50 dead (many children) and a high ranking Taliban official among those. Morality and really even the military doctrine does not justify this air strike.

I agree that the human cost of wars is very neglected. Part of it is that it is easier to keep statistics of dead/wounded soliders than of civilians, but the media on either side of the pond is always eager to jump on sensational news like 600,000 dead in Iraq estimate, which was then highly criticized based on methodology employed.

I agree that war is wrong. I distinguish, however, between wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Afghanistan war had the moral and legal support of the international community. There was no question that the U.S. was going to respond to an Islamic regime that sheltered a terrorist group which slaughtered 3000 people.

This is especially so that the U.S. did not invade Afghanistan after the 1998 bombings of its embassies when over 300 were killed. At the time, a few days of air strikes was the most that was managed.

Thus my question is: how should a country faced with such threats respond? You argue that conventional war is not the way. If you were the Prime Minister of Germany and 3000 Germans were killed in broad daylight in Berlin, what would you do?

I do agree with you that there is the issue of moral distance. A death is a death anywhere, but it stings more if it is geographically closer than if it is geographically and perhaps more importantly culturally removed from oneself.

Julien Frisch said...

The hypothetical question of me being a prime minister faced with 3000 deaths is quite hard to answer.

But I think that Afghanistan was more like a valve, a moral catharsis for the international community because a more reflected or sound reaction would have seemed "weak".

Yet, this is the problem of the male monotheistic construction of the international system, with the dichotomy of weakness and strength, where retaliation is the only possible reaction to an attack, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. If you kill 3000 of my people, I kill as many as possible of yours.

I wait for the day when this vicious circle will be broken. I am a big fan of Ghandi. But maybe I am also just a little idealist...

Julien Frisch said...

PS: I also recommend the 6th season of "24"...

Anonymous said...

On the "moral catharsis" - definitely a big part of it, but it being so does not take away, IMO, from the fact of wide moral and legal support present for a military action against Taliban in the international community.

I'm guessing you've read Margaret Mead's "Warfare is only an invention - not a biological necessity." In case not, here is a link:

Unknown said...

Interesting post, but I'm not sure a European Dream exists yet. It is more of a construct in the making. I hope it will mirror many attributes of the American Dream, because so many of those are also European attributes—and British particularly. Individual liberty goes to the very heart of British culture, and Dutch, and Danish, and Irish...

And I do take issue with both your statements:

'For me, any war is wrong, and especially the post 9/11 wars that have answered terrorist attacks with conventional wars based on the strange assumption that you can bomb out terrorists.'

War is not wrong. War is sometimes necessary, morally righteous, and justified. It is often the only way one can resolve a dispute, whether one likes it or not. We have to be realistic, and not allow lofty idealism to cloud our judgement.

Moreover, I think you misunderstand if you think the British government attacked Afghanistan's illegitimate Taleban regime to 'bomb out terrorists'. We invaded the country to impose order, re-establish a central government, and reshape Afghani society, into being more conducive to democratic principles. The same applies to Iraq. Islamist terrorism breeds in countries like those, where there is disorder or where brutal regimes crush progress and all hope.

'The European Union is correct in presenting itself as a project that has prevented internal wars from happening, but that doesn't mean that the EU is an anti-war project. This is what I wanted to say.'

I disagree in part. I'm not very sure the European Union is alone responsible for keeping peace on the European continent. I think the naval preponderance of the United States, the United Kingdom and France has done as much to keep peace as the Union. Also, the threat from the Soviet bloc, which galvanised Europeans into a common enterprise, cannot be discounted. And the imposition and/or encouragement of constitutional government in West Germany after WWII cannot be forgotten either...

That, of course, is the European Union's dirty little secret. It was a product of war, and was sustained by the Cold War. War was essential for its existence. After all, war and foreign policy drive cultural and political innovation. Without them, we would stagnate.

In the modern world, the European Union has a new mission: to defend and protect all of us—all twenty seven members—from malign foreign meddling.

Julien Frisch said...

When it comes to the existence of a European Dream, I tried to say that it does not yet exist but was in the making by calling it an "improbable journey" in the last paragraph of the article.

For the rest: I agree that so far history has been the history of war, but I do not agree with you conclusion that it has to stay like this and especially not that it should stay like this. However, since I follow the events in the real world, I it sometimes hard stay optimistic...

sdfg546sd5f4g said...

I'd say basically that it really is the united in diversity and the solidarity thing. Aspirations of solidarity maybe moreso.

Aspiration of solidarity in diversity... in the face of adversity? (/mouthful!)

The yanks can be the sword but ourselves the shield. That really is the argument every state puts forward for membership, protection. Solidarity. Peace.

I think at the minute as the project is far from completion, not even a demos yet, but at the minute it is like the striving for that which heals the ailments of the past. Which in future could morph into a perception of united strength.

Petty actions of governments, states, ministers and commissioners have not dampened the general... theme? of the EU. This year the French wanted to bailout their cars, but for 30 years they helped build Ireland. That notion wont dissipate for a hundred years... when people will say Sarko-who?

Anonymous said...

Americans may be constantly taken in by their own propaganda, but Europeans should know better than to fall for that old illusion, the so-called "American dream"; research has shown that even in such allegedly rigid societies as Japan and Sweden, people are far more upwardly mobile than Americans...The "European dream"has to do with respect for diversity and tradition, with humanism, with solidarity...more later